Backlash – Revision of Rights and the Impact of the Men’s Movements.

SPEECH TO RED HEARTS (CHRISTCHURCH LABOUR WOMEN’S BRANCH) FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, March 2010. (Part 2)

Within this renegotiation of basic rights – democratically elected representatives, privacy, the right to a fair hearing, there is a broader groundswell which affects women.

We have recently had a High Court case on abortion in which the legality of most of the abortions in NZ was queried. The Court of Appeal has conveniently for them side stepped the issue. On top of this, Medical Council requirements are being challenged by physicians with personal objections to abortion. They oppose being required to advise women who are doubtful about pregnancy that abortion is an option.

The Press recently ran a headline about our “Sexist DHB funding” questioning the allocation of funds for women’s health.

Our education system is challenged because girls are succeeding and boys aren’t beating them.

Our Family Court is frequently touted as being full of feminists, biased in favour of mothers and shrouded in secrecy.

Domestic violence has been re-framed as family violence. While, on the one hand, it rightly acknowledges that violence in families ranges wider than between two partners, I feel the gendered nature of violence has been diluted. How often have you heard the phrase “but women are violent too” as if that justifies male violence.

Last week, The Press ran an article about fathering. One of the comments was that since feminism, men do not know what their role is. I have to ask, “since which feminism?” Have men been uncertain of their role since women got the vote? Since women started to gain a level of financial independence? Are those men also confused when women date other women? And why is this stated confusion about men’s roles blamed on women?

Within women’s movements, there has been the development of theory. It might be Charlotte Perkins-Gilman and the sexual economics of marriage. Or Mary Ann Muller penning the first pamphlet for New Zealand women’s suffrage. Germaine Greer and the Female Eunuch or Naomi Wolf and the Beauty Myth. We’ve argued radical feminism, separatist feminism, lesbian feminism, the feminism of race and so on. We may not always agree but the feminist movement has been one of radical ideas and discourse.

To me, the men’s movement doesn’t seem to have the same kind of analysis, theory, debate and so on which the women’s movement has. When I hear the issues raised by men it seems to have as part of the argument an attack on the gains of women or assumptions that continue to suggest that men should have an advantage over women.

For example, funding for prostate screening is often paired with an argument that women get screening for cervical cancer and breast cancer. It’s raised as if that is an unfair advantage, undeserved or to the detriment of men’s health funding.

That boys are failing at school is coupled with an underlying assumption that girls, by rights, should not be excelling at school better than boys.

That is not to say that men’s groups are not making a valid point in raising the issues – access to health etc. But we need to be cautious that the gains women have made are not undermined in addressing issues reasonably raised by men.

Over the last few years, how many time have we heard that women have made it? After all, we have a female Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief- Justice, Attorney-General and Speaker of the House. New Zealand is run by women so what are we women  complaining about?

But of course, now we don’t – with the exception that Sian Elias still holds her role.

How fleeting was our time in the sun.

Just as justice is not a pie with finite slices, nor is gender equity. A gain for women or a gain for men should not be a jeopardy for the other gender. There is always enough equity available for all.

We must just move forward together.

[End Speech]

Women and Criminal Justice

SPEECH TO RED HEARTS (CHRISTCHURCH LABOUR WOMEN’S BRANCH) FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, March 2010. (Part 1)

I feel that as the final speaker, I’m supposed to end on a positive note. I’m not going to deliver that optimistic ending.

My view, is that we are currently going through an erosion of human rights. We cannot assume any  collective acceptance of our human rights framework. Any past truce is over.

There has been a shift in our democracy. I refer to the Supercity structure and the suggestion that our democratically elected ECan could be scrapped and our local resource management handed over to a Board appointed by a Minister.

I also refer to recent legislation challenging our privacy through greater search and surveillance.

Being a lawyer, I first and foremost see an attack on our criminal justice system. Due to high profile cases like the Kahui twins or Louise Nicholas as well as the hysterical voices of the Family First Lobby and the Sentencing Sentencing Trust (or Non-Sensical Sentencing Trust as I prefer) the fundamental cornerstones of our criminal justice system are being rocked.

The right to silence i.e. to not to incriminate oneself by not having to give evidence is challenged by those who are disgusted that the Kahui family closed ranks to hinder investigation.

The right to a fair trial through an uninfluenced jury is challenged by those who criticise the suppression of names and evidence.

The right to a fair trial itself is challenged. I refer to an article in The Press last week where the family of a murder victim wondered “Why the matter had even gone to a hearing” and other recent articles and letters to the editor querying why legal aid is available to provide Counsel for the defence. I’m amazed we are questioning the fundamental right of the accused to have a fair hearing with access to skilled representation.

In  trial by media, we are no longer innocent until proven guilty.  In trial by media we are not entitled to have our fate determined by a jury of our peers.

Where are women in this dialogue? Women are here [Hold up The Listener cover “Why are so Many Christchurch Women Brutally Murdered, February 27-March 5, 2010 edition).

Of course, organizations are right to challenge the criminal justice system in terms of, for example, the abysmal conviction rate in rape trials. But we also need to be wary. For example, supporters of Louise Nicholas breached suppression rules by publicizing the Schollum and Shipton were already serving time in jail. What was not widely known at that time was that there was a second woman waiting to have her case heard against the same accused. She also had a right to have a fair hearing in terms of her complaint and we have to be wary of actions having a flow on effect and affecting others. An action thought to be assisting one woman find justice, could have hampered the right of another women to seek the same.

We also need to be careful not to buy into victimology. When women’s voices are heard, in terms of criminal justice reform, do we always want to be considered as victims? Particularly when being a victim is so often portrayed as weak, defenceless and bitter. It is rare, at least in the media, to see a victim who is strong and forgiving.

The present language around victimology is retributive. Does it reflect women’s values? If there are such common values. Feminists used to subscribe to a view of women and women’s values being compassionate, collectivist, nurturing and healing. These are not the current values reflected in discourse around victims, offenders and reform. Does Garth McVicar speak on behalf of women?

I also note, in this article, there is an overview of well reported violent offending in Christchurch. Here are the women – Lisa Blakie, Anna Wilson, Emma Agnew, Marie Davis, Tisha Lowry and other women. Here are the offenders – Timothy Taylor, Peter Waihape, Liam Reid, Dean Stewart, Jason Somerville and other men….

An entire article on Canterbury Crime; where is Gay Oakes?

Why do we remember Mark Lundy, David Gray and Clayton Weatherston? Why do we forget Gay Oakes. Tania Witika – manslaughter of her daughter, Delcilia Witika. Rachealle Namana, manslaughter of Lillybing. Julie Johnson who deliberately drove into a crowd of party goers killing Renee Brown and injuring 15 others (2003). Lisa Kuka for the manslaughter of Nia Glassie. Whatarangi Rawiri who was charged alongside Bailey Kurariki. Or Natalie Fenton, Katrina Fenton and Daniella Bowman who were all convicted for stabbing to death Raymond Mullins in 2000.

Women are offenders too. So when we talk about reform of our criminal justice system, we need to be aware that women fill the ranks of both sides. Consider this. The justice system is not a dish of pie to be sliced up. A greater serving for victims does not necessarily mean there is a smaller serve available for offenders. Equally, ensuring offenders are well served, does not mean victims miss out. The rights of all parties can be met.

(Part 2 to be posted shortly).

Why I Can’t Talk to Farmers

It’s not often that lawyers are stuck for words but on Friday night I found I could say nothing. I was introduced to two dairy farmers. In the last 7 weeks or so, I’ve driven three times south of Christchurch and been horrified by the large mechanical creatures now occupying lush pastures and spewing water. So when I met these dairy farmers all I could think of saying was;

“So how much of our drinking water do you gush onto arid land?”

“How many windbreaks have you removed from our windswept plains?”

“Exactly how much cow shit and fertilising is leaching from your property into our aquifers?”

Luckily, this was one of the few occasions I was able to bite my tongue. So perhaps I wasn’t lost for words at all.

We have local body elections this year. I’ll be watching closely to see who will protect our pure water. It’s time we started to treat our clean water like the treasure it is and stopped dairying from selling our souls.

Why Parole?

Marc Alexander (ex-United Future MP, now National party candidate and fan of what I like to call the Nonsensical Sentencing Trust) has a letter to the Editor in today’s Press. One of his comments is that we shouldn’t have parole.

I don’t understand this position.

It’s very easy to sway people against parole by saying that inmates get let off lightly, because they get out of prison earlier and therefore doesn’t serve the full term of their imprisonment.

I think we need to look at it like this:

1. We cannot keep people in prison indefinitely.
2. After a sentence is completed, we can no longer impose any restrictions of their freedom.

    Therefore, the question is “Do we want to be able to monitor what a convicted criminal does on his or her release into the community?”.  Do we want to be able to:

    • Check before release that the offender is going to live at a suitable address?
    • Track their whereabouts?
    • Ensure they receive community based treatment programmes?
    • Encourage the person into gainful employment or training?
    • Recall the person to prison if he or she re-offends?

    If so, then that is parole. Parole allows the inmate to complete the last part of his or her sentence in the community, but allows us to place monitoring on them while their sentence is completed.

    Without parole, then as soon as their prison lag is finished they are up and out the door without restriction. Which one seems like a better option to you?

    Child Traffickers or “Child Rescuers”?

    I’m interested in these two articles on Stuff. Both articles are about the US Baptist group taking Haiti children to the Dominican Republic. The first  article was published on February 1, 2010 at 13.07 and refers to a “child trafficker” speaking out. The second article was published on February 2, 2010 at 16.00 and suddenly the child traffickers are now “child rescuers”.

    Now isn’t “child rescuer” so much more sanitised. Gee, sounds like they are the good guys in the story rescuing those poor children. Much better than evil traffickers who remove children from their families without consent and whisk them off to other countries. Hang on a minute…isn’t that just exactly what the missionaries were doing? And what kind of credential do you need to be a missionary these days?

    What seems to have been overlooked in the media is the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. As the text in the link above says, the purpose of the Convention is to “protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad.” What prophetic words. While neither Haiti nor the Dominican Republic are Contracting States, the United States of America is. Therefore, as a “receiving state” the USA has an obligation to apply the internationally agreed conventions. A point made by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Arguably, the receiving state has a greater responsibility to ensure that they are not encouraging the illegal transportation of children.

    The purpose of the conventional is to ensure the best interests of children are met. There are a number of aspects including ensuring that:

    1. The children are genuinely available for adoption. The parents are not under pressure to give up their children and the parents are fully informed about what the adoption will mean.

    2. Children are not bought and sold.

    3. Children have an identity. This is not just in terms of their right to maintain their cultural identity but also a legal identity as a citizen of a country.

    4. The home the child goes into a safe one.

    5. That there are approved accredited adoption agencies with proper standards and ethics.

    Basically, that the baddies don’t steal kids and exploit them sexually or for labour and that well meaning do-gooders don’t cause children harm by depriving them of their natural families, heritage and identity.

    Haiti’s children are vulnerable and their parents are vulnerable. Is it any better that the Baptists were “apply Christian principles to save Haiti’s children” when the result may that already traumatised children are further displaced? Are good intentions enough to mean that child trafficking is child “rescuing?”

    We need to remember here that we are talking about adoption, not just fostering. A legal adoption severs the legal relationship between parents and child and creates a new legal relationship between the child and the adoptive parents. Is that what Haitian parents understood when they, in desperation, allegedly consented to their children being removed from Haiti? For that matter, how did the Baptists know they were gaining consent from the child’s real parents?

    I also have to comment on the cultural imperialism of the Baptists. The situation reeks of “We’re white and Christian so your black children will be better off with us. Plus I googled Haiti and it mentioned voodoo. In the name of Jesus, we will care for your children. Your government is struggling under a national emergency, but don’t worry, we know what is best.”

    Would the “child rescuers” be treated differently if they were not white and Christian? There is some commentary about this over at The Hand Mirror.

    Children are entitled to food, shelter and love. But first and foremost, they are entitled to receive this from their own families.

    Of whips…

    The Fruju Fruit Whip ad – “Whipped for the Girls”.  I just want to throw up every time I see it.  Who is Tip Top actually trying to market this product to?

    Are they suggesting that women who buy the product are nags?

    Are they suggesting that men who buy the product are pussy whipped? Um, yeah, that’s right Tip Top “Pussy Whipped”. That’s what you actually mean, right? Pussy? The P Word?

    Women in the ads are nags. Controlling biarches. Poor, poor men having their freedom removed by their terrible girlfriends. Clearly, if you actually do anything helpful around the house (laundry, make the bed) then you must be “whipped.” And oh my goodness, he actually folds her bras!!! How emasculated must he be by her to fold her underwear for her?

    Gag, gag, gag.

    I suppose, yet again, we’ll be told to “get a sense of humour” rather than challenge how men, women and gender stereotypes are portrayed in advertising.

    …and Cougars

    I thought the Grabaseat Cougar mockumentary was funny. I definitely sent it on to a couple of people. What I think bears closely scrutiny is the sleazy competition that went with it to get tickets to the Sevens in Wellington.

    First, Air New Zealand has to get the Cheapskate Award for not even springing for the airfares to Wellington, let alone accommodation.

    The You-Tube ad copped the flak, but I think it’s the competition that deserves scrutiny. Sadly the radio station assisting with the promotion has been missed out being brought into disrepute for their participation in this.

    What was sickening was the blatant debasing and sexualisation of the participants. Women had to send photos of their “packs”, describe their water hole and their favourite pieces of “meat” (i.e. the men they hunt). Young men then entered to be fodder for the winning pack. The clear point was to team up a bunch of blokes to be the sexual entertainment for the rapacious women. Therefore, objections made by rape prevention groups about the ad potentially making sexually predatory behaviour acceptable, better applies to the competition rather than the ad. Their comments about the seriousness of rape, and the fact that men can be the victims of female perpetrators is valid but I expect went over the heads of your average punter. It was clear the ad was a joke. The competition was no joke at all.

    Would we accept a competition where older men describe their favour “meat” and young women compete to be their prey? Actually, I think we do. It’s called the Playboy Mansion. Yet we seem to be more able to accept that kind of objectification as tacky but not the Cougar Competition. Maybe it’s easier to say someone is too PC or just needs to get a sense of humour than think about treating all people with respect rather than as sexual play things.

    Why did none of the entrants – male or female – think “Hell, I have too much dignity to enter this?”

    I’m waiting to see the outfits the winning cougars are given. I think “predictably sluttish” is the winning bet.

    I wonder from where “cougar” originates?

    I thought the name was a tag for an older, confident woman, in command of her sexuality who knows what she wants, who she wants and goes for it. Probably a financially successful, emotionally mature woman without hang ups about body image etc.  Far from being predatory – she is a man magnet. She can reject older, paunchy, balding, sexist and paternalistic men and choose who she forms a relationship with.

    However, cougar seems to have been hijacked to now mean a predatory, emotionally bankrupt female who shouldn’t be “allowed” a relationship with a man younger than her. She’s only capable scoring a man for a night. She isn’t wanted long term. You can imagine the young man explaining it to his mates the next day as “I was drunk and then when I woke up with her I had to gnaw my arm of.” Who is actually the victim here? Isn’t this re-invented cougar a woman scorned upon, taken as a sexual partner and then easily disposed of?

    What Grabaseat has done is hijack a word that could mean a strong, independent women and made her socially unacceptable.

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